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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 2 Hansard (2 March) . . Page.. 502..


MRS DUNNE (continuing):

The protection of human rights relies on a consensus across society. One might say almost that where such a consensus exists no legislative protection is necessary, and where it does not none is possible. Certainly none would be effective. What the Chief Minister is doing today is saying that, although we are a consensual society, a civic society, we should have a bill of rights imposed upon us of the sort that we would see in a much less civil society, one without the social capital that we have in the ACT.

Thus a prudent approach would dictate enacting rights which were the subject of broad consensus in society or in the legislature. In fact, the first substantive provision addressed in this most divisive of bills is perhaps one of the most divisive issues that has ever come before this legislature or its predecessors pre self government. That is the issue of life and when it applies. It is an issue on which the views of this Assembly and its predecessors, if you can judge by the various debates over the years, would appear to be finely balanced and nuanced. But this bill baldly asserts the most extreme position, that held by the current Chief Minister. So much for the rights of conscience! When I read this provision, I was struck by the juxtaposition in clause 9(1), which states that everyone has a right to life, with clause 9(2) which says, "This section applies to a person from the time of birth."The Chief Minister giveth and the Chief Minister taketh away. It does not matter what has been debated in this place time and again on this particular issue and others. And does that not make you feel just a little embarrassed, just a touch apprehensive, that you can stand up and declaim the most fundamental human right, and then in the next breath qualify it. You qualify who it applies to. Does the Chief Minister really imagine that the right to life is something he has bestowed and that he can revoke it at will? Does he imagine that, if he wished to, he could declare that it does not apply to Aborigines, or TV reporters, or members of the Liberal Party, or any class of people that he does not like? Does the fact that the government believes human rights are something it gives out at its absolute discretion, like jobs for the boys, not give members a small niggling doubt about the value of prescribing a list of what are our rights, thereby somehow diminishing the things that are left off the list.

If we go down this road of asserting rights by fiat without regard to the actual views of the community, we will end up with the Soviet constitution. That was the approach that we saw in the cold war era and before and it is not merely ineffective but counterproductive. It obscures the absence of human rights. For generations, whenever people asked, "What about all those political prisoners, the gulags, the censorship, the torture, the extrajudicial executions?"the Soviets and their Western apologists said, "Nonsense, It is just propaganda. It couldn't happen here. This is a workers paradise."Legions of people went to the Soviet Union to look around and came back and said, "I have seen the future and it is a marvellous thing."Mrs Roosevelt was a good one; she was doing it all the time. At the time people were saying, "We have a workers paradise. Look! We have a marvellous constitution. It has wonderful protections for human rights."

Mrs Cross touched on this this morning when she spoke of regimes that pay lip-service to human rights in grandiose terms, when there is a yawning gulf between those statements and the hideous realities of life and death under those regimes. The sad fact is that, as Mrs Cross noted, protection of human rights is not something that can be done by the stroke of a pen, by imperial fiat. It requires vigilance through the legislature, through the legal system and through the administrative structures. It needs accountability, it


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